Friday, January 13, 2017

Separated by 92 miles, DePaul and Marquette clash for the 119th time

Rivalries provide the ultimate backbone for college sports.

Football’s foundation lives off its famous trophy games like the Paul Bunyan Trophy and the Little Brown Jug, but basketball’s rivalries tend to take a backseat outside of Duke-North Carolina.

One of the more underrated rivalries in college basketball happens to be the DePaul Blue Demons and Marquette Golden Eagles, who are separated by 92 miles.

Saturday’s 119th meeting at the BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee serves as the latest chapter in a rivalry that has witnessed both teams play as members of the Great Midwest, Conference USA and Big East conferences.

Fresh off last-second victories over Providence and Seton Hall respectively, DePaul (8-9, 1-3 Big East) and Marquette (11-5, 2-2 Big East) split last season’s two meetings with the road team gaining the upper hand.

Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski witnessed first hand what it felt like to be on the opposite end as Billy Garrett Jr.’s conventional three-point play with 1.1 seconds left to give DePaul a 57-56 win at the BMO Harris Bradley Center on Feb. 20, 2016.

“In any rivalry type of game, you throw whatever has happened in the season out the window,” Wojciechowski said. “In these types of games, it will usually come to down to the final possession and these are the types of games where players want to play in.”

On the eve of the rivalry game against the Golden Eagles, Garrett’s late-game magic was on full display once more as another old-fashioned three-point play with five seconds left propelled the Blue Demons over the Providence Friars, 64-63 on Jan. 10.

With a load of underclassmen, DePaul coach Dave Leitao will count on Garrett’s leadership in the Marquette game.

“The guys that have been here, mainly Billy because he’s the one guy that is playing in his fourth year who understands the give and take of the rivalry,” Leitao said. “Going up to the [Bradley Center] last year and Billy making a layup to win the basketball game is important and he fully understands the importance.”

Despite the Providence win, DePaul has failed to win back-to-back games since Dec. 19 and a quick start at Marquette could provide the next step in becoming a primary contender in the Big East.

“Being in a hole and then putting yourself in a position to make a comeback like we did against Providence, it speaks to the mentality that we played with a few times this year in some close games and have built some substance,” Leitao said. “We are growing and it hurts us sometimes in other areas. It is something we continue to try to work on everyday in the gym physically and psychologically, by having conversations in the film room to get into the proper mindset.”

Marquette’s freshman sensation Markus Howard will get his first taste of the rivalry, but produced a ravishing stat-line in the Seton Hall win on Jan. 11 with 22 points, on 8-of-17 from the field and six assists in 42 minutes. Wojciechowski praised Howard’s ability to step up in big situations despite the inexperience.

“To be a 17-year old and to handle what has been thrown at him in the pre-conference slate and now in Big East play, is terrific.” Wojciechowski said. “[Markus] has a lot of room for growth and wants to get better. A lot of times, freshmen don’t value the day-to-day grind and Markus for his age to be an everyday guy has been refreshing and impressive.”

Experience against youth. Sports produces the best unscripted drama and Saturday's game should be no different.

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Follow Geno Green on Twitter @TheGenoGreen.